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Dear administrators, teachers, and staff:

Before I say anything else, thank you.

Thank you for creating an incredible environment for my daughter. Two and a half years ago, I sat in the audience at Sophie’s fifth grade graduation and sobbed, convinced her education (both academic and social) had come to a halt, that we’d never find such a nurturing and inclusive environment for a kid with Down syndrome in a junior high setting.

We’d had a rough time finding a middle school — every one from the charter her older sister attends to the public junior high across the street from our elementary school had made it clear that Sophie was not welcome.

Not only did your school welcome Sophie, your arms were open and have remained so. I am already stocking up on Kleenex for the eighth grade graduation ceremony.

Sophie is a cheerleader. The school has started a Best Buddies program and soon, Special Olympics. She is a homeroom rep for Student Government. She is in honor choir and can’t wait for end-of-the-year trip to Disneyland. She is fully mainstreamed in the classroom and on campus she knows everyone from the school cop to the school nurse. She’s even made a couple friends.

To me, it’s no surprise (although on a political level it’s a little concerning — a battle for another day) that your school’s mascot is the Crusader. In the last couple years I have watched Sophie become her own best advocate, fighting for what she wants, crusading for her causes. You always listen, which I love.

I fully recognize that her requests are often not appropriate. I’m not writing to you today to ask you to abolish the school’s dress code or to let Sophie into the college-prep program (although I see her point in both cases). But I will feel as though I’ve failed both as a parent and a community member if I don’t once again mention another cause that’s nagged at me for years now. You’ve all heard both Sophie and me rail on this already.

Here goes:

Sophie wants to take drama as an elective. It is not currently offered at her school, has not been her entire time there.

True, there have been attempts. There was an after-school drama club. In my estimation, it did not go well. Last year Sophie took “musical theater,” and that was worse. I cringed at the year-end concert, watching my daughter sing along to a karaoke machine. I’m not asking for a lot in the way of instruction, but that was definitely a low point of our time at the school.

There’s a solution to this drama thing, and it’s literally in the school’s backyard.

Drama is offered as an elective at the gifted academy housed on the same campus as the general ed public school Sophie attends. There are other electives, as well, all open exclusively to the gifted students.

And yet the gifted students are allowed to take any general ed elective they choose.

Like I said, this has nagged me for years. It’s a pretty well-kept secret. I never would have learned of it if Sophie hadn’t told me. In fact, as it turned out, she had been cornering the gifted academy’s principal at lunch for weeks already, asking him to let her take drama. This was followed by my own request, which I took up the ladder to the superintendent.

I never really got an answer, which I suppose was my answer. But I’m here today to ask again.

I don’t just want Sophie to be able to take drama at the gifted academy. I want you to tear down that wall and open all electives to all students on this small campus. There are so many good reasons to do it, reasons that would benefit all the children.

Look, I’m not asking you to let all the kids take the same math class. And I understand the value of having a prestigious gifted school on campus — it’s a way to keep parents from sending their kids to charter schools, for one thing.

I get it.

But there are other things I get, too. When this issue first came up, I talked to a kid from the gifted academy about it. He had taken drama. “Hey, what would happen if the general ed kids were able to take drama at the gifted academy?” I asked.

He didn’t hesitate. “Those kids are so poorly behaved,” he said. “It would be terrible.”

I haven’t crunched the numbers, I’m not sure they are even available to me in the breakdown I’d need them, but anecdotal evidence tells me that the two schools have very different demographics, both racially and economically. (By the way, I do know that the gifted academy has enrolled a few kids with special needs and that’s awesome, but it doesn’t affect this argument.)

This is not an issue about special education, or about Sophie. This is a matter of civil rights and it affects every kid on both campuses.

Speaking of special education, something really amazing happened this year. Sophie’s school DID start offering a drama class on campus — exclusively to special ed students. That, along with other changes I’ve seen and heard about, such as kids with IEPs being more fully included in academic settings — is wonderful. I’m so happy to see kids with special needs receive more programming.

But here’s where it’s left you:

You have a drama class for the gifted kids. You have a drama class for the kids in special education. And you have nothing in between.

What you have is segregation. In drama. One of the few places where you could do some freaking amazing inclusion! What are you people thinking?

I get that this is the least of your worries in this current political climate. I get that Sophie and I are a pain in the butt. But just imagine, what if you blew things up next semester and opened your drama class to ALL kids. Put the gifted kids in with the kids from the self-contained special needs classroom. Toss some kids in from the general population. Dream big!!!

I know what you are thinking. “Dream on, lady.” Okay, I will. And I will push for change.

Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to assist you. And again, thank you.

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4 Responses to “My Letter to Sophie’s Junior High: Let All the Kids Take Drama, Not Just the Gifted Ones.”

  1. Amy, Thank You So Much for standing up for your daughter, my cousin Sophie. I wish that things had been different for her in the drama department in her middle school. Yet, in many ways, her middle school experience was 1000% better than mine was. Hopefully the school will change its policies after your experience there. Two big thumbs way up!!!!

  2. Amy, I have been following you from almost when Sophie was born. Your evolution has been interesting to watch. Good luck with the school. This brings back so many lost battles I had with my daughter’s school. I don’t understand why it’s so freaking hard to treat people right. Again good luck.
    (Also if it works, watch whether it closes up again after Sophie has moved on. It’s interesting how that works.)

  3. Every child deserves an advocate to help them navigate the challenges of school and life. Amy, you are one amazing advocate–and parent! I share My Heart Can’t Even Believe It with everyone and anyone who is a parent or who is planning to become a parent. You rock!!

  4. This letter is an epistolary template for effective parental communication for change within a school system. Beautiful, I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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